NAIOP's Visionaries: Leadership Across the Generational Spectrum

Fall 2022 Issue
By: Mike Riopel

The association’s program for rising leaders in commercial real estate offers an outstanding career development opportunity.

A look at the roster of NAIOP Research Foundation Governors reveals a dynamic group of industry veterans and NAIOP leaders who have made their mark on the commercial real estate profession. The NAIOP Research Foundation is an important source of thought leadership and cutting-edge research largely because of their active participation, insights and counsel.


Barbara McDuffie, a former managing director with Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP in Tysons, Virginia, and a NAIOP governor since 2015, is the chair of NAIOP’s Visionaries committee and led the program’s development.

In 2017, the governors realized that the foundation needed to diversify its ranks to include the voices of bright young CRE professionals so it could best serve the industry amid a time of great change. Barbara McDuffie, a governor since 2015 and the program’s chair, spearheaded the effort to diversify and expand the group, and her brainchild became the Visionaries program.

The foundation launched the first Visionaries class in 2018 to connect outstanding rising industry leaders under the age of 40 with the governors and the NAIOP Research Foundation’s work. Ten young professionals were in that initial group.

Visionaries work closely with the governors, foundation leadership and staff, and they collaborate at in-person and virtual meetings and social gatherings during their three-year terms. They play an important role in the foundation’s research development process by sharing their perspectives and expertise. They are chosen through a competitive application process and are invited to become governors at the end of their terms.

Although COVID-19 presented unique challenges for in-person meetings and networking events, it was also an opportunity for Visionaries to innovate, evolve and ultimately enhance the value of membership in the program. One such idea was establishing quarterly virtual meetings. For the first half of each meeting, a foundation governor shares their expertise, offers career advice and answers questions. During the second half of the meeting, Visionaries share their perspectives, thoughts and insights into the work they’re doing and the markets in which they operate. Because conversations are confidential, attendees feel comfortable discussing work challenges and openly sharing advice. These quarterly virtual meetings help Visionaries keep a finger on the pulse of various real estate markets, asset types and trends.

An Opportunity for Mentorship

Program participants also have an unparalleled opportunity to learn from and network with senior professionals and governors through a formal mentorship program. In each year of their three-year terms, Visionaries pair with up to three governor mentors.

Mike Chukwuekue, a principal with BentallGreenOak and a member of the 2021 class of Visionaries, said his mentorship experience was uniformly positive.

“Given the unprecedented times we are in, my mentor’s perspective of seeing opportunity through uncertainty is one that forces a recalibration of any adversity you believe you are facing,” he said. “This creates a clearer, less daunting path toward achieving a more favorable outcome.”

Chukwuekue’s experience is representative of what many Visionaries have said about their mentor conversations.

New Voices

Before the creation of the Visionaries program, governor recruitment was focused almost exclusively on professionals with several decades of experience in the industry, and candidates were identified mostly through peer-to-peer referrals. By actively getting the word out about the foundation and its work to a younger group through the Visionaries program, these professionals are engaged earlier in their careers.

Every fall, a selective application process ensures that each five-person class of new Visionaries is committed to careers in commercial real estate and the advancement of the profession. They must also actively participate in the work of the foundation.

Finally, many Visionaries see the value in the program and have chosen to continue their support. To date, seven Visionaries who have completed their three-year terms have pledged to become governors.

Mike Riopel is assistant general counsel for real estate investments with Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee.

An ‘Extraordinary Opportunity’

NAIOP Visionary Mike Riopel describes his experience with the program:

“When I was initially selected for the Visionaries program in January 2020, I was excited about the extraordinary opportunity to collaborate with industry leaders and the chance to help shape valuable industry research. Over time, the experience has come to be much more than that for me. The program has allowed me to collaborate, lead and learn from a truly outstanding group of peer professionals from varying perspectives, backgrounds and roles. I have also greatly benefited from the unprecedented access to the governors who are so committed to the work of the NAIOP Research Foundation and the future of the industry. Their contributions go well beyond those they make to the research development process and extend to a commitment to developing the careers of future industry leaders through the support they give to all of us in the Visionaries program.”